Baltimore Police Detective Abraham Gatto testified that, on August 4, 2014, he executed a search and seizure warrant at the establishment, based on an ongoing undercover investigation. He recovered three powerpacks and three processors as well as $830 in currency from cash register, drawer and three poker machines. Gatto explained that video poker machines are supposed to be used as entertainment (like an arcade game), not as a gambling device. For more on Maryland’s underground illegal video poker machines and their connection to organized crime, read the Abell Foundation’s report at the link.
Detective Gatto said that he was undercover in the bar in the late evening and early morning of July 17-18. He observed patrons of the bar playing the video poker machine. One female player played the machine up to a score of 1,104 points. When she reached that level, she flagged down a bartender and showed her the point total. The bartender said, “I got you, hon,” discreetly made a cash payout to the player and reset the point total on the machine.
None of the licensees for this establishment were present, but Mr. Brian Everett was there on their behalf. He cross-examined Detective Gatto, asking, “did you approach the woman who paid the money?” Gatto replied, “no.” Everett asked, “you didn’t ask her why she paid the money?” Gatto said, “no.” Gatto admitted that he was not close enough to see the value of the cash that the bartender gave the player.
Chairman Ward asked Detective Gatto how long he had been investigating illegal gambling. Gatto responded that this was his first video poker case. Ward asked, “are you familiar with poker machines?” Gatto responded that he has watched players play and he has played the machines in the office to see how they work. He stated, “in this case, Commissioner Ward, this was a direct payout.”
Mr. Everett submitted the Maryland Judiciary Casesearch information on the criminal case arising from this violation, which showed that the State’s Attorney’s office decided not to pursue the charges against the licensee. Gatto explained that he himself had advised the state’s attorney not to pursue charges against the licensee, because none of the licensees were at the establishment that night. Their employees were the ones who committed the violation. (Criminal law requires proof of a much higher degree of participation and knowledge in order to find a person guilty for a crime than the Liquor Board requires for a violation.) Gatto said that the bartender, who was prosecuted by the state, failed to appear for her court date.
|Other reasons given for decision
Chairman Ward had suggested a $2,500 fine, but Commissioners Moore and Jones lowered it to $1,500. Commissioner Moore said that the Board wanted to issue a fine that makes a point, but not so large that it puts the owner out of business.
The licensees have three prior violations for sales to minors, from the years 2005, 2006, and 2013. Mr. Everett explained that he had sold to an undercover cadet, by mistake; he said, “she had too many teeth to be a customer at my bar.” Everett said that the neighborhood has “degraded, like other areas in Baltimore City.” He said that he was just trying to pay his bills and not get in trouble.
Chairman Ward told Mr. Everett that he cannot use these illegal poker machines to support his livelihood. Ward said, “if you can’t stay open, you ought to get out of business.” In a lengthy response, Mr. Everett said that the money from the illegal machines goes to pay his rent and his other bills, not into “a mayonnaise jar in the backyard.” Commissioner Moore advised him to stop talking and said, “my sympathy is expired.”